Bill Hocker | Oct 24, 2014
The maintenance of an agricultural economy means that the pressure of development potential be taken off of agricultural land. In 1968 it was done by defining minimum parcel sizes, at first 40 acres and then expanded to 160 acres and then depended on the rational economic decisions of growers to determine whether they wanted to invest in a winery or not. They did, and by 1990 more regulation was necessary to prevent vineyard buildout as developers found that the difficult economic decision of building a grape processing facility could be eased by processing tourists as well.
Enough subdivision of napa county land had occurred before the 160 acre provision went into effect that it's impact has been modest - as with the viewshed and conservation ordinances and other regulations, I'm sure, they go into effect when most of the damage they are meant to prevent is already done. And since the WDO of 1990 set the minimum parcel size for a winery at 10 acres, meaning virtually every parcel in the county, it now really means nothing in terms of preventing the development of vineyards into more profitable use.
I have suggested in another solution that the minimum acreage for a winery development should be 40/160 acres just as it is for subdivision. I would also propose in addition here that a catalog of properties below 160 acres be made in the county and that each be defined as suitable or unsuitable for development beyond vines and zoned accordingly. The basis for the decision should be whether or not the property represents an infill of an already developed area. Fortunately we now have Google Maps to easily determine which properties represent undeveloped acreage surrounded by developed parcels. The areas are generally at the edges of the municipalities and along the Hwy 29 corridor. To the extent that more winery capacity is needed in the future, these properties, and only these properties, should be the ones used for winery and tourism development.
This property-by-property zoning approach, often done in municipal zoning, of course means very difficult and contentious decisions on the part of the county. Unfortunately, it is no longer clear that the county has the will or ability to do that, and we are probably at a point at which development of vineyard property will proceed until it is all gone.